IN THE YARD: While not the same as chemical-free, organic gardening considers all aspects of management – GoDanRiver.com

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IN THE YARD: While not the same as chemical-free, organic gardening considers all aspects of management

Ladybugs include some other pesky garden insects as part of their diets.

Metro Creative Connection

STUART SUTPHIN
Contributing columnist

Stuart Sutphin

There is an increasing interest in organic control of garden pests.This is an interesting topic, and new information is being generated or updated through modern research. It should be noted the term, organic, is not the same as chemical-free. Organic gardening considers all aspects of how the garden is managed and includes things, such as soil amendments, fertilization and plant culture as well as pest control. True organic gardening does not use any synthetically produced products and uses only naturally derived produces. These products come from other plants, animals and naturally occurring nutrients. Organic products can include pesticides.

For most gardens, organic weed control is simple: pull the weeds out by their roots before they produce seeds.

Metro Creative Connection

Weeds are a perennial problem in any garden. For most gardens, organic weed control is simple: pull the weeds out by their roots before they produce seeds. For large gardens, this may not be practical. If that case, soil cultivation — digging and turning the soil between rows — is a good option. Mulching with newspapers is a good organic weed control practice. Some gardeners use vinegar for weed control, but they get mixed results. To be considered organic, the vinegar itself must be labeled as certified organic and it must be strong enough to provide consistent results; at least 20% actual vinegar.Diseases are more difficult to control. The best method of disease control involves two steps. First, learn what diseases likely are to infect the plants; past experience is the best teacher. Then look for varieties of vegetable plants that have been developed that show resistance to that disease. Second, manage the garden through effective cultural means. Water in the morning so the leaves will have time to dry. Remove dead plant material or plant parts that show signs of disease. Manage the soil to maintain plant health by keeping the soil’s acid at an appropriate level, and do not use too much fertilizer. Finally, remove rotten fruits and other materials promptly, especially at the end of the growing season.There has been a lot of work done to control insects by organic means. These pests are difficult to predict and can be hard to control once they show up. One thing that helps is to encourage the presence of insect predators in the garden. Earwigs, praying mantis, lady bugs, spiders and other insects include the pesky bugs as a major part of their diet. If these predators are present in the garden, do not apply insecticides, as killing the predators will allow more pests to move in to feed on the plants. Also, if the predators are there, do not spray too soon when insect pests are seen. Instead, give the predators time to do their work. If the pests are killed out, the predators likely will move to another location in search of food and will not be there to protect your garden.There are some things that are considered organic that can be applied to a garden to control many insect pests. These products must be labeled as organic and display the certified organic seal. The organic label is not something a producer can put on a product in hopes of increasing sales. To be sold as organic, any product must now be certified as such by the Department of Agriculture. This includes materials and methods used to produce a crop as well as the crop itself.Neem oil is an insecticide that has been isolated from the neem plant, a tropical native of India and other locations. It will control a wide variety of insects including aphids, cabbage worm, thrips, beetles, mites and other pests of plants. If used correctly, it poses a low risk to honeybees and ladybeetles. It has also been used as a household insecticide to control ants, roaches, bed bugs and termites. There is some evidence that suggests pregnant women can suffer problems if they come in contact with a concentrated form of neem oil so those “in a family way” should avoid this organic product.Bacillus thuringiensis, Bt for short, is a family of bacteria that feeds on many species of insects. It has become more readily available as the demand for organic products has increased. Different forms are used for different pests (milky spore for lawn grubs for example), so make sure the right one is used for the targeted pest. To control mosquitos in standing water and landscape ponds, Bt is available in the form of mosquito dunks. These dunks are donut-shaped rings that dissolve in water and release the bacteria to destroy the larvae.Insecticidal soap is marketed under many names. It is a fatty acid soap that works well on a number of soft bodied insects and mites, including aphids and mealybugs. It is one of the more common organic insect controls in use today.Other products include pyrethrins, a botanical obtained from chrysanthemums, and Diatomaceous earth, which is effective to control fireants and to prevent slugs from getting to your plants.One thing to keep in mind when assessing pest damage in the garden is to determine just what the pest is and how much damage can be tolerated. Oftentimes, simply waiting will allow mother nature to apply her controls so the gardener does not need to take action.Enjoy your garden.For questions or to suggest a topic for this column, email to [email protected]

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